fishbone cactus

Fishbone Cactus | Plant Care Guide

Fishbone Cactus is a plant of many names. Ric Rac, Zigzag, and Orchid Cactus are all alternative common names for this unique plant. All the names describe the alternating points along the edges of each stem. Regardless of which name you use, this is a great plant for beginners because it can handle neglect and long vacations.

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Botanical NameSelenicereus anthonyanus (or Cryptocereus anthonyanus)
Common NameFishbone Cactus, Ric Rac, Zigzac, and Orchid Cactus
Size8 to 12 inches long
DifficultyEasy
Pet FriendlyYes: Non-Toxic
Air CleanerYes

Fishbone Cactus Origin

Fishbone Cactus (Selenicereus anthonyanus) is an epiphytic cactus that is native to the tropical rainforests of Mexico. The plant is found growing in the nooks and crannies of trees. The tell-tale serrated stems trail down over the sides of the branches. 

How To Care For Fishbone Cactus

The best part of Fishbone Cactus is that it can handle neglect. While it is important to do your best to provide everything the plant needs, beginners don’t need to stress that their plant will not survive their inexperience. Fishbone Cactus has care requirements that are similar to cactus and orchids. 

Light and Temperature

Since this plant hails from the tropical rainforest, it should come as no surprise that it prefers warm temperatures. During the growing season, aim to maintain an ambient temperature of 60-80 degrees Fahrenheit. In the winter, it is okay to allow the temperatures to drop down to 50 degrees. 

The optimal lighting for Fishbone Cactus is bright, indirect light. The plant also benefits from some direct sunlight. To avoid scorching the plant, only allow the less intense morning sunlight to directly hit the stems. Direct afternoon sunlight tends to be too hot and harsh. 

Fishbone Cactus can survive in medium or lower light conditions. However, this is not the best set-up for this plant. In addition, Fishbone Cactus only blooms when it has been given access to appropriate sunlight throughout the year.

Water and Humidity

Fishbone Cactus enjoys having more moisture than most other cactus species. Instead of allowing the soil to completely dry out between waterings, you should only allow the top two inches of soil to dry out. During the winter, you can cut back on the amount of water and the frequency of watering because the plant will slow or stop growing. 

Fishbone Cactus can be sensitive to salts and chlorine in tap water. If you are concerned about contaminants affecting your plant’s health, it is recommended to use filtered or purified water only. 

Like most house plants, over-watering your Fishbone Cactus puts the plant at risk for root rot and other infections. Always allow the soil to fully drain after each watering to help prevent the roots from sitting in water. 

High humidity is beneficial for Fishbone Cactus. If you live in a dry climate, it is best to run a humidifier near your Fishbone Cactus and other house plants. For everyone else, misting the plant occasionally should provide enough humidity for optimal health. 

Soil and Container

To show off the zig-zagging stems, you can house your Fishbone Cactus in a hanging basket. This also provides plenty of drainage. A terracotta or unglazed clay pot will also allow excess moisture to easily evaporate. 

If you are interested in creating a unique look with vertical stems, use thin plant stakes to hold up each stem. Once the stems get too long, you can trim them before they bend over. 

Fishbone Cactus is an epiphyte, which means that it grows on trees or rocks instead of soil. Therefore, you need very little soil material to successfully grow a Fishbone Cactus. Use a cactus or orchid potting mix to provide good drainage and aeration for the roots. 

Fertilization

Just like Fishbone Cactus can be sensitive to salts in tap water, it can also be sensitive to over-fertilization. Always start with diluted amounts of fertilizer and make any increases slowly.

The maximum fertilizer concentration you should use for Fishbone Cactus is NPK 10-10-10. A better option is a cactus or orchid fertilizer, which tends to have lower concentrations of nutrients. 

If you are using a slow-release fertilizer, apply it in the early spring and once again in mid-summer. A fast-release fertilizer can be applied every two weeks during the growing season. Do not apply any fertilizer during the winter or after the plant blooms (usually in late summer or autumn.)

Flowering

Fishbone Cactus produces beautiful light pink blooms in the late summer or early autumn. However, this plant is a type of night-blooming cactus, so the blooms will only open up during the night. Most of the time, the flowers only live for one day. 

This plant will not produce flowers until it is three years old. Fishbone Cactus requires adequate lighting and appropriate temperatures throughout the year to induce blooming.

Pruning

Pruning can be useful to control the shape of your Fishbone Cactus. Cactuses do not have leaves like other houseplants, so each portion of the plant is just a stem. 

When you trim the stems, they will dry out and callus over the cut portion. This is a great time to propagate a new Fishbone Cactus. Once the cut portion of the piece you pruned has dried out, you can plant it in a growing medium.

Always wear gloves when pruning and handling the Fishbone Cactus. It does not have large spines, but it does have fine hairs that will stick into your skin and cause irritation. 

If you do get some of the irritating hairs onto your skin, you can use tape to remove them. Duck tape or masking tape works best. Just press the tape down onto the portion of skin where the hairs are present and then slowly peel away to remove the hairs. You may need to repeat this a couple of times to remove all of the hard-to-see hairs. 

Repotting

Your Fishbone Cactus will most likely need to be repotted every year or two. Even if the roots do not need a new pot, it can be beneficial to change out the soil to provide fresh nutrients. 

Signs that it is time to repot your Fishbone Cactus include slowed growth and roots growing out of the drainage holes.

To repot your Fishbone Cactus, wear gloves and remove the plant from the old pot. Remove as much of the old soil from the roots as possible. Place the plant in the new pot and add fresh potting mix around the roots. Water thoroughly and return the plant to bright, indirect light.

Pests

The succulent stems of Fishbone Cactus are susceptible to sap-sucking insects like mealybugs and scales. If the soil and plant are allowed to dry out too much between waterings, the environment becomes perfect for spider mites.

Mealybugs are common pests amongst house plants. They look like white cotton puffs and are usually found near new growth. To eradicate mealybugs, apply insecticidal oil or soap every couple of days for two weeks. 

Scales cause similar damage to mealybugs, but they have a different appearance. Scales look like small, brown bumps on the stems. Once these insects reach maturity, they secure themselves to one spot on the plant and do not move around anymore. Insecticidal soap or oil can be applied every couple of days for two weeks to make sure all adults and eggs are killed.

Spider mites are minuscule pests that can be hard to spot. They create fine webbing on the plant and soil, which usually tips you off to their presence. A gentle shower can help remove many of the mites and can moisten the dry environment. Then apply an insecticide that is effective against mites. 

Diseases

As with all houseplants, many diseases that can infect Fishbone Cactus are caused or exacerbated by over or under-watering. This is why it is important to maintain an appropriate watering schedule and use a well-draining potting mix. 

Root rot is a well-known plant disease that is caused by a fungal infection. This disease is brought on by over-watering because the roots are left sitting in wet soil. If caught too late, root rot can kill all or some of your Fishbone Cactus stems. Once all the roots are killed, your only option for saving the plant is taking sterile stem cuttings and propagating a new plant. 

Powdery mildew looks like a fuzzy mold growing on the plant. Mild cases can be treated with a fungicide without causing any issues for the plant. If the disease is allowed to spread throughout the Fishbone Cactus, you will need to remove all infected tissue and then apply a fungicide. 

Leaf-spot disease can be caused by several different factors, including fungal infections, bacterial infections, or viral infections. Oftentimes, the disease is caused by a fungus that is thriving in a moist environment. The recommended treatment for a fungal leaf-spot disease is applying a copper-based fungicide after removing affected areas of the plant.

How To Propagate Fishbone Cactus 

Cactus propagation is similar to propagating through stem cuttings of other house plants. 

Begin by putting on gloves and using a sterile cutting tool to remove a portion of a stem. Leave the cutting out to dry for a couple of days. A callus will form over the part of the stem that was cut.

Once the callus has formed, you can plant the cutting into a propagating medium, such as peat moss. Place the end with the callus an inch or two into the medium. Keep the growing medium moist and place the cutting in bright, indirect light while roots are forming.

After a few weeks, you should be able to gently tug on the cutting and feel resistance (since the roots are now holding the plant in place). You can now transplant your cutting into its pot. 

Frequently Asked Questions

The best location for a Fishbone Cactus is a warm spot in your home with high humidity and bright, indirect light. A bathroom with a bright window is an example of a good location.

It is more important to check your soil instead of following a watering schedule for a Fishbone Cactus. When the top two inches of soil are dry, it is time to water the plant. For many climates, it will be necessary to water once a week. 

Throughout the year, the Fishbone Cactus must receive ample light. This means it should receive lots of bright, indirect light and some direct sunlight. 

After winter, keep your Fishbone Cactus in a cool location that maintains a temperature between 52-57 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep the soil fairly dry during the time. 

Once flower buds begin to form, you can transition the plant slowly to a warmer location. In this new location, water the Fishbone Cactus as normal and add a tomato fertilizer. 

Fishbone Cactus is non-toxic to animals and humans. It even produces edible fruit in the wild. 

Final Thoughts

Fishbone Cactus is a unique house plant because it is a tropical cactus with a one-of-a-kind look. By giving this plant proper care, not only will it provide beauty for years to come, but you can also endlessly propagate new Fishbone Cactuses.

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